Beyond headline figures of 310hp and 280lb ft, first impressions are that in creating the Cupra R, SEAT hasn't so much slid off the Cupra 300's invisibility cloak but thrown it to the ground, doused it in kerosene and set it alight. The cars at the launch event near Barcelona were painted matt black - UK examples will possess a more subtle hue, with only metallic black and grey on offer - but the design details ensure that, with this particular iteration at least, the Leon's Q-car days are behind it.
The resulting aesthetic is as likely to delight as it is to appall, but with only 24 cars out of a total production run of 799 (for now, says SEAT) destined for the UK, the Cupra R should find enough fans willing to stump up. The interior, it must be said, is a success, with Alcantara trim for the wheel and gearstick, restrained copper detailing, decently supportive (but still too high!) buckets and an engraving of the car's production number on the transmission tunnel. To these eyes the silver-backed dials also look cool in a faintly 1990s kind of way.
Golf GTI Clubsport S, straight-line speed is predictably rapid. In this state of tune VW Group's EA888 2.0-litre TSI pulls off the trick of developing peak torque at just 1,800rpm and peak power between 5,800 and 6,500rpm, which is delectably close to the red line for a low-displacement turbo engine. On paper it's good for 62mph in 5.8 seconds, with the DSG version (which isn't coming to the UK) snipping a tenth from that. With the current limitations of tyre technology, you won't go much quicker in a front-driven hot hatch.
The chassis, meanwhile, gets retuned DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) dampers that are switchable through four modes - as are the throttle response characteristics and the front axle's VAQ electronic 'differential'. Cupra is the most aggressive, and prompts the exhaust system to crackle gently on the overrun (preserving an element of authenticity, there's no synthesised sound wafted into the cabin).
As the roads out here are also relatively warm, and dry, SEAT has shod the cars with the £855 optional Cup 2 tyre (the Continental SportContact6 is standard). Quite simply, they dominate the driving experience. A degree more negative camber for the more widely spaced front wheels and a recalibration of the variable rack have given the steering a marginally more natural feel than in the Cupra 300, and response feels a touch quicker just off centre, not that it needed to. Front-axle grip, however, is frankly eye-popping, and on turn-in triggers a sequence that starts almost uncomfortably quickly and ends with the nonchalant pummelling of more than 300hp into terra firma once you've spliced through the apex. Point-to-point, on these roads, it's difficult to imagine anything much more effective that doesn't cost more than £100,000.
Is it a copybook worth all that money? Well, no, probably not, if you're going to be objective about it. A low-mileage GTI Clubsport S can be had for roughly the same outlay, is more engaging, and does the hardcore hot hatch thing with greater conviction. A Honda Civic Type R, meanwhile, is significantly less expensive and more warmly invites you to get your hands dirty behind the wheel, so to speak. You won't sacrifice practicality in the Japanese car, either, which you will in the two-seater Volkswagen.
The margins are fine, though, and we don't imagine those 24 UK buyers will be anything other than delighted. The rest of us will have to hold out for a Leon with a little less exclusivity and that's a little less dear but benefits from the same successful chassis modifications. Call it the Cupra 310.
Inspired? Buy a SEAT Leon Cupra here
SPECIFICATION - SEAT LEON CUPRA R
Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 310@5,800-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,700rpm
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 38.7 (NEDC combined)